Willie Denson

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Prolific songwriter Willie Denson remains best known for the Shirelles' 1961 classic "Mama Said." Born and raised in Columbus, GA, Denson migrated to New York City in 1957; while pursuing a career as…
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Prolific songwriter Willie Denson remains best known for the Shirelles' 1961 classic "Mama Said." Born and raised in Columbus, GA, Denson migrated to New York City in 1957; while pursuing a career as a songwriter and poet, he worked the night shift at the U.S. Post Office, a job he held for three decades and retained even when his musical aspirations became a reality. In 1959 he teamed with composer Luther Dixon to co-write "Mama Said," inspired by the memory of Denson's own mother, Lillie. Recorded by the Shirelles' two years later, the song rocketed into the U.S. Top Five and remains one of the more memorable cuts of the girl group era. The Shirelles recorded a number of additional Denson/Dixon collaborations, including "Stop the Music," "The Things I Want to Hear (Pretty Words)," "Love Is a Swingin' Thing," and "Blue Holiday"; Denson published more than 250 songs in all, most notably Gene Pitney's "Backstage (I'm Lonely)," Gene McDaniels' "A Tear," and the Ronettes' "Recipe for Love." Denson's attempts to launch his own performing career met with little success, however, and in 1995 he returned to his native Columbus, making headlines six years later when he won three million dollars in the Georgia lottery. Denson died of lung cancer on July 1, 2006; he was 69.